When law and social media collide: Tips for navigating tricky social media waters

Where social media enthusiasts see limitless potential for authentic interaction, in-house counsel - not surprisingly - often has an entirely different take.

Stacy DeBroff
Stacy DeBroff

After spending nearly 10 years at Harvard Law School, founding and running the Office of Public Interest Advising, I hung up my legal hat and embarked on an entrepreneurial journey that led to the creation of Mom Central Consulting, a digital and social media marketing firm.

Although I cherished my newfound former-lawyer status and loved spending my days discussing consumer trends with national brands, I soon felt the long arm of the law creeping up behind me. As I launched Mom Central in the early days of the social media movement, each day dawned a new platform or emergent technology – all of which presented endless opportunities for brands to engage with consumers. While social media enthusiasts saw limitless potential for authentic interaction, in-house counsel – not surprisingly – had an entirely different take.

Those early collisions between law and social media centered on everything from Federal Trade Commission disclosure anxiety to content-ownership quagmires, and I found myself repeatedly slipping back into lawyer mode to talk corporate attorneys off the social media cliff.

Today, the intersection of law and social media continues as we’ve seen examples pop up on news feeds with increasing frequency. Yet more often than not, when social media and legal teams butt heads – it often focuses on confusion over what can and cannot be controlled on social media and how best to mitigate risk. Here are my top tips for getting both teams on the same page:

  • Know your risk profile: Understand that a startup gaming firm and a traditional CPG brand will have different degrees of intestinal fortitude when it comes to social media, so plan accordingly. Have current social activities been well received? Are there industry-specific issues to address? Scalable programs that allow teams to get their bearings – combined with clear communication on legal concerns – often present the best compromise.
  • Keep your seatbelts fastened: While the social media universe may look like unchartered territory, many safeguards can, and must be, put into place proactively to mitigate risk. From FTC disclosure compliance to awareness of liability issues surrounding offline events, creating strong boundaries around social media advocacy can go a long way in keeping the lawyers at bay – as well as ensuring program success.
  • Don’t give counsel free reign: In the social media realm, authenticity makes a difference. And no matter how much in-house counsel would dearly love a world filled with legally vetted, pre-approved posts, consumers don’t. They want storytelling, real-life insights, and first-person perspective – and our research tells us that 63% of consumers will likely stop reading a post if they deem it inauthentic.

The social media world remains ever-evolving, so tensions between legal teams and online strategists will never completely disappear. But by adhering to these points, both teams can better navigate today’s frequently tumultuous social media waters – and keep paddling in the same direction.

Stacy DeBroff is founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting. You can reach her at stacy@momcentral.com.

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